“In our country, you are ultimately dependent on yourself and you must take responsibility for your own safety.”
A journalist couple from Garsfontein in Pretoria learned this the hard way when they were ambushed, tied up and robbed in their home by two armed men in the early hours of Monday morning.
Although Christel Cornelissen (40), a senior reporter at Rhewal, repeatedly pressed the panic button in their bedroom, the private security company whose services they use did not come to their rescue at that stage.
“I waited and waited for someone to come and help us. Nobody came,” she said about the incident on Wednesday.
A security officer from the company in question was indeed sent to the house after the panic signal was received, but left a note on the gate that “everything is in order” before the officer drove off again. This despite the fact that neither Christel nor her husband, Andries, answered their phones and the company was able to gain access to the yard through a lock box.
Christel explains that Andries, managing editor at Bulletin, a company that compiles radio news bulletins, had to get up early on Monday morning to work.
“He unlocked the door for the dogs so they could go out. He was just back in the house when two men waited for him in his study: one with a knife and one with a revolver.
“He screamed and I woke up. He didn’t say anything, it was more just a loud shouting sound. My first thought was that the cat might have knocked something over his laptop again.”
That’s when Christel went down the hall barefoot and in her night clothes to see what was going on and ran into the robber with the revolver.
This man ordered the couple to sit on the sofa where he and his accomplice tied their hands and feet with computer cables. Andries’ hands were especially tightly tied.
‘Mercy’ that children slept through commotion
The men randomly began to pack electronic devices such as computers and mobile phones into a bag and also repeatedly threatened to shoot the couple.
The couple’s two toddlers were sleeping through the incident and the dogs – who usually bark incessantly at visitors – lay down quietly in a corner. A management, says Christel.
“It was as if they knew not to wake the children. I think there was definitely a Higher Hand over our house.”
Her courage sank in her shoes when one of the men said “let’s go to the bedroom”. Still she just kept hoping that the children were sleeping.
In the room, the man asked her where her jewelry was and began looting valuables, including her wedding and engagement rings.
He also overturned cupboards left and right, stole a lot of clothes and even put one of Andries’ caps on his head.
“They were not once in the children’s room, and fortunately they did not wake up. My one boy always wakes up through the night, but not this time.”
The man took Christel back to the television room where her husband was still being held. At one stage she even pretended to be ill – anything to get the men away – and was ordered to go to the bedroom a second time.
“Then the breath left my body. I wondered what would happen this time. He told me to lie on the bed and ‘sleep’. I did as he said, with my hands and feet still tied in front of me. The panic button is in the room and I pressed it when he walked out.
“When they tied me earlier, I held my hands so that there was a gap. So I was able to free one hand and put it back again after pressing the panic button repeatedly.”
She was convinced that the security company would respond quickly and that the nightmare would soon be over – yet terrified that one of the robbers would hear the sound of the button.
“The security company sent someone. They were at the gate while these people were in our house. We have a small safe at the gate that the security company can open to gain access to the yard. No one came in.”
The robbers left around 05:15. Andries was able to untangle his feet and went to his wife in the room where they helped each other to get completely free. Both of their mobile phones were gone, but Christel was able to use her laptop – which was well stored away – to open WhatsApp and call the neighborhood’s emergency group for help. Soon after, several security cars were on the scene and about an hour later the police.
The couple will meet with their private security company on Friday to find out exactly what went wrong. If response officers had come in, they would probably have caught the bad guys in the act and possibly arrested them.
“We relied on these people. The first chance I got, I hit the panic button. I kept pushing and pushing.
“The crux is you have to take responsibility for your own safety. Yes, security companies are important and play a big role, but in the end you are only dependent on yourself.”
Christel says they are obviously grateful that their family was unharmed.
“Yes, it’s traumatic and shouldn’t happen, but it could have been so much worse. We are okay, and we are grateful.”
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